Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
It was early morning when the impact woke her. Although muted by distance, there was still enough force to send an ominous tremor through the center of her chest. She clutched at the spot, even before her eyes opened. Patiently, she waited for the darkness to ease reluctantly into the sulking gray of dawn. The instant sunlight spilled in through her window she was outside, padding barefoot up the path towards the perimeter. She slipped past the rabbit hutches, up the hill between the potato fields, and then into the cool depth of the bamboo groves. When she broke through to the other side she saw the other children, all facing intently away from her. Hector was there too, like always. None of the other adults ever went out with the children to watch, but Hector came every time. He stood off to the side, his wiry frame tired and sagging. She went over, reaching out to take his gnarled hand in hers. She followed his gaze past the perimeter fences, to the hulking form of the aberration.
Ponderously, it heaved itself across the horizon, so far away it looked faded, grayish blue, almost translucent. It rippled and flowed more than walked, carried forward on massive, ever-changing tendrils. A seething billow of dust and debris poured out from behind it as it moved.
“Do you think…” she began, then stopped. Hector turned his pale, watery eyes down to her and said nothing. She tried again. “Do you think one of them will ever…”
“Ever cross into the perimeter?” he finished for her. He pushed his lower lip upwards into the scraggly bristles of his mustache. “No, child. I don’t think they will.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I asked momma, and she said they never will, ‘cause they never have. She doesn’t like it when I ask questions.”
The old man tilted his grizzled toward her. “Your momma wasn’t even old as you when them things first come. While she was growing up, a billion people got gobbled up every year. At first, folks tried to figure out what they was, where they come from, what they’d do next. But the more and more was destroyed, the less and less them questions seemed to matter. When folks found this spot, figured out it was the one place in the world where them things wouldn’t go, nobody asked why. They just went to living here, happy to leave all the dying behind. Happy to leave the questions too. Maybe afraid asking too much might break the spell.”
Carefully, she scanned his face. “Spell? Like, magic? That’s why they don’t come here?”
Hector’s eyes crinkled almost closed. “Could be, child. Could be.”
She glanced past him, back at the bamboo grove. “Momma says there’s plenty for everyone inside the perimeter. She says it’s better in here than it ever was outside.”
Thoughtfully, the old man drew in a heavy breath. “Back in the early days, folks straight away went to fighting over who got what, who was in charge, behaving like they did before, out there. But the first time one of them things dropped in close enough to blow dust over them, they sobered up. Like, little pigs huddling together when the wolf rattles the door.”
“Yeah, little pigs. You don’t know that story?”
“Momma doesn’t like telling me stories.”
“Well, I’ll tell you that one sometime. Maybe after we watch that big bad thing huff and puff out there for awhile.”
Together, they watched as the aberration shuddered and shifted their way. Hector gave her hand a gentle squeeze.